12 December 2005 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 4 comments

Russ Bonds, fellow lawyer and Civil War historian, has been working on his first book. I’ve been trying to give Russ tidbits of guidance along the way. Today, I got the following question from Russ: “As a writer, what do you do about asking others to read and comment on your manuscript? I often see authors thanking colleagues, professors, friends, etc. in their acknowledgements for reading the manuscript and ‘saving them from many errors.’ To me, there are two issues here–seeking expert advice on your manuscript to be sure it’s technically, militarily and factually accurate; and seeking the opinions of ‘lay’ readers (i.e., wives, friends, non-Civil War types) to be sure the thing is readable and interesting. However, I believe that you can get into trouble letting people shape what you’re trying to do; and/or letting too many cooks stir the pot, as it were. So, how do you approach getting comments on your manuscripts? Any thoughts?” I answered Russ privately, and then thought that this might be a good topic for a blog entry.

The answer to these questions is really quite important to understanding part of the process that goes into the creation of a book. As I told Russ, the process of having somebody else review a manuscript is absolutely essential to any book manuscript. There are lots of reasons why.

As the author, I know what it’s supposed to say, but by the time that I’ve finished writing the thing and then revising it, I’ve read it so many times that I just can’t see anything anymore. You begin to see what it’s supposed to say, not what it really says. Consequently, there will inevitably be things wrong with it that I just can’t see or find anymore because I’m too close to the manuscript. Therefore, having an independent reader review the manuscript for me is important for two primary reasons.

First, an independent reader can catch factual errors–we all make them, often stupid, careless, and terribly embarrassing. If they get caught, then I only have to be embarrassed that I made a stupid mistake with one person instead of with a book that can’t be easily changed. I wish I could remember just how many of these stupid mistakes I’ve made–and have had friends catch–over the years. I do know this–I would be terribly embarrassed if any of them ever made it into print.

Second, an independent reader, and especially an independent reader with some good writing skills, can point out the massive, Faulknerian run-on sentences that look great to me, but which really need to be broken up into three or four different sentences that are not Faulknerian in nature. Again, I’ve had lots of instances where readers have saved me from serious grammatical faux pas.

I’m very fortunate that I have five or six people who regularly read my work for me and give me lots of good input, helping with the factual glitches and with the ugly passive constructions that need to be livened up. We all regularly pass work between us, reading and reviewing each other’s work, and giving each other good feedback that ultimately makes our work better.

At the same time, it’s very important to make sure that the readers understand that I, as the author, retain the discretion to decide which suggested revisions actually get made and which don’t. Sometimes, a suggestion is just plain wrong, or I don’t like it, and I always retain the discretion to decide which to use.

Finally, it’s critical that the writer not have an ego about this stuff. You are going to make mistakes. We all do, and it is inevitable. Not one of us writes perfect, completely publishable work without the benefit of an editor. You’ve asked that person to give their time and effort to reviewing your work. You’ve obviously done so for a reason–you respect that person, and you WANTED that person to give you input into your manuscript. Therefore, when you get that feedback, you’d better be prepared for it, and you’d better not blow a gasket if that feedback suggests a lot of revisions, and that feedback points out errors. Just suck it up, make the changes, and be grateful to the person who read it for you.

So, Russ, the answer is yes, having others review my work for accuracy and to avoid those ugly Faulknerian constructions is an absolutely crucial part of the process. Embrace it. Live it. Love it.

Scridb filter


  1. Dave Kelly
    Mon 12th Dec 2005 at 9:02 pm

    Hey watch that “ugly Faulknerian construction” stuff.

    Us Faulknerian Constructionists jes loves our smarmy self indulgent intoxification with the beauty of a waterfall of sonorous wordfall :). Clipt writing is the same sort of dumb down that gives us the History Channel.
    What’s wrong with some good ole post grad persiflage?

    Oh? You say you want to actually get published? Well. Nevermind….


  2. Mon 12th Dec 2005 at 9:10 pm

    LOL. Point taken, Dave.

    I can honestly say that I have never been able to make it all the way through an entire Faulkner novel. One can only read so many three page-long sentences before going insane. ๐Ÿ™‚


  3. Sean Dail
    Thu 15th Dec 2005 at 9:53 am

    Hi Eric,

    That may be the best discussion on the value of editing that I have yet run across. As someone who writes for a living (though not Civil War history – not yet, anyway), I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a good editor and know how to work with that person.

    I was fortunate enough to have a professor for freshman English who knocked me down from an A to a B if a paper contained a single passive sentence or unwieldy construction, and I’ve spent most of the past 27 years thanking him (of course I resented the hell out of him at the time). He was my first editor, and he made me realize that no matter how talented a writer I became, I would always need a good editor. And they’re not easy to find.

    Now if someone will please pass your comments on to the folks running certain Civil War publishers who seem to have decided to save money by cutting out editors (most of us know who they are)…

  4. Thu 15th Dec 2005 at 6:04 pm

    Thanks, Sean. I’m glad you agree.

    As I have said here previously, every writer, no matter how talented, requires an editor. I don’t care who they are–EVERYONE needs an editor, me included.


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